What’s Wrong With the Black Confederate Debate?

Photoshopped image of Louisiana Native Guard

Brooks Simpson has chosen to wade into the mire that is the black Confederate “debate”.  In his most recent post he surveys a short list of the standard primary sources that have been used to prove the existence of black men in the Confederate army.  As Brooks notes, they are all problematic for any number of reasons, but at the end of post he offers the following:

But there does appear to be a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit in the use of these pieces of evidence to make a case for the presence of African Americans in the Confederate army as willing participants in fighting for the cause of southern independence.

Why do you think that is?  What conclusions might we draw?  Could you explain why these examples are still used by people who claim a fidelity to historical accuracy?  After all, they offer no defense of their use of these examples in light of the information presented.  They simply continue to present the examples.

Deception is clearly involved in the case of the Photoshopped image of the Louisiana Native Guard, but the cut and paste references to Frederick Douglass, Lewis Steiner, Ed Bearrs, that populate so many websites beg for a different response.  I don’t even think that we need to fall back on the need to demonstrate that slavery was not central to the Confederate experience and the Civil War more generally.  In the end, what this reflects is an inability to engage in historical analysis.  I am going to sound like an elitist for saying this but so be it: Many of these people are simply not well read in the history of slavery, the social and cultural dynamic within the Confederate army, and the politics of the Confederate government.

Consider the following examples of how a few folks choose to define their terms:

“So what is the definition of a body servant?  A body servant is a gentleman’s gentleman.  These African-American men, whether freedmen or slaves, dedicated their lives to the service of men who in some form or fashion shaped the United States of America.  In 21st century vernacular the role is analogous to a position known as an executive assistant—a position today that requires a college Bachelors Degree or equivalent level experience.  Ask any salesman. You cannot secure an appointment with a senior executive without getting approval from his or her  executive assistant.” — Anne DeWitt

What is a black Confederate?

“A person of color whose heart and beliefs lie to the South. There are people who ask why Civil war headstones don’t stat that, the answer is the same reason modern day ones don’t. I would not count a minority who didn’t love the South for better or worse or during the war wanted to flee.” — Southern Heritage Preservation Group

“The definitions already offered as to what constitutes a black Confederate reflect my view: ANY person of color, that served the Confederate States in defense of their homeland – officially enlisted or not – if they in any way attempted to defend their Southern homeland against the illegal invaders (Union troops). I don’t know how you can be more definitive than that. Soldiers don’t just define those on the front lines (although there were many black Confederates in that position), they include all support troops as well. The guys on the front line could not perform their duties without those support troops. Those working in pistol factories as well, they were making the weapons for the front line personnel. That’s just common sense to me!” — Southern Heritage Preservation Group


“(1) Any… slave or free Black Southerner who preformed a service for the Confederate Military and in doing so saw military action and actively took up arms in defense of the South, or the Confederate military (or any individual in it) at the risk of his own life against the Union invaders. (2) Any slave or free Black Southerner who wore the Confederate uniform and in doing so continued to preform whatever services with a Confederate regiment even beyond the requirements of their services (specifically in regards to a slave who continued to serve beyond the death of their white master with distinction).   (3) Any slave or free Black Southerner who was interred in a Union Prisoner of War camp, who endured the indignities and hardships of imprisonment and remained loyal to the Confederate cause of the South specifically, defying all attempts on the part of his captors to take the oath of loyalty to the Union.” — Southern Heritage Preservation Group

Most of these descriptions are so vague that they are meaningless.  What we have here is not a debate about whether free and enslaved blacks served as soldiers in the Confederate army.  The folks referenced above are not engaged in deception; rather, they simply do not understand the relevant history nor do they understand how to engage in historical analysis.

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61 comments… add one
  • michael Carlin Mar 5, 2011 @ 14:17

    History is almost always written by the victor…..with that in mind there must be truth in the fact that black men and woman slave or not supported the south…itis only human to protect you the familiar life you have grown to know. the problem is how moving forward these things are looked upon as if they just happened yesterday..extremist on both sides need to learn from our history and move on. please lets not make this a talk of color or hatred but a point of coming together for all americans. Martin Luther King is not a great black american…he is an american who happens to be black..lets keep things in perspective.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 5, 2011 @ 14:41

      Why do you equate “supporting the south” with protecting your “familiar life”? I don’t think anyone disagrees with the point that what motivated free blacks during the Civil War was incredibly complex and enslaved blacks were also forced to make certain decisions.

  • Marianne Davis Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:05

    I was the questioner last night, and first I must thank the Harpers Ferry Civil War Forum for allowing us to visit. They were very gracious in their welcome, and it looked like everyone enjoyed their evening.
    The speaker, Jim Glymph, made several interesting assertions during a pretty standard praise of the Confederacy. Firstly, that though Moses Ezekiel was not in the Confederate Army, he was drilling black soldiers in Richmond. Second, he pointed to the service of black regiments raised in New Orleans which he said “switched sides when the Yankees captured New Orleans.” (He wasn’t clear whether this was a betrayal of their native land or if he recognized this as their chance to fight for their freedom.) Third, he asked the audience, “Do we agree that a cook, or a driver is a soldier? Try telling some guy driving a truck now that he’s not a soldier” I shouted, “Maybe, if they’re PAID.” but it was too late. The audience was his. He proudly asserted that all these people were “employees of the CSA, and there were thousands of them.”
    I think the SCV/UDC strategy of claiming African-Americans for their own is both clever and effective. Sculpt a figure in a uniform fifty years after the war, instant black Confederate. Place a headstone on a grave a hundred and fifty years after the war, instant black Confederate. It is cynical and dishonest, but it serves an eager audience.

    • Andy Hall Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:38

      That’s really damned depressing about that presentation. “The audience was his.” [bangs head on desk]

      One point, though — “Sculpt a figure in a uniform fifty years after the war, instant black Confederate.” But as you know, that’s very explicitly not what the UDC had in mind, and that’s not how he was portrayed at the time. People like Glymph aren’t even competent to get their Lost Cause symbolism right. And yet we’re the ones guilty of “presentism.”

      • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:53

        … sad, but typical.

      • Mike Musick Feb 10, 2011 @ 7:28

        I hate to think of a depressed Andy Hall banging his head on his desk, so let me point out that at the end of the talk, at the very end of a long response to a question from Marianne Davis, the speaker stated “There were thousands of blacks with the Confederate army. They were not enlisted as soldiers.”

        • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 7:48

          Thanks Mike. I was hoping you would chime in on this one.

        • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 8:00

          Hi, Mike. Sorry I could not remember your first name earlier.

          • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 8:06

            I forgot to state clearly that Michael Musick and I are not related. That is an important fact. I am glad that the speaker at Harper’s Ferry made it clear that the thousands of blacks with the Confederate Army were not enlisted as soldiers. Perhaps that statement will lessen the need to debate the point.

        • Andy Hall Feb 10, 2011 @ 8:20

          My head feels better already. Cracked the desk, though.

    • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:46

      Perhaps it would be much better if they all proclaimed their hatred of all black people. How dare they try to honor black people, and set them up as an example of someone they admire? Next thing you know they will allow any black man who wants to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Oh, wait a minute. They already do that. Never mind. I must have been confused. You are right. The attempt to claim a common humanity with Black Southerners is obviously an insidious conspiracy.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:52

        This such an unfair and childish response, Arleigh. No one is arguing that African Americans should not be recognized for their sacrifices during the Civil War. What some people do care about, however, is that we don’t butcher the history to do it. It seems to me that this is the fastest way to dishonor their memory.

        • Bob Pollock Feb 10, 2011 @ 9:22

          Is there not a modern day political undertone to this as well? If thousands of blacks served in the Confederate army, then the war coudn’t have been about slavery, it had to have been about states’ rights or high taxes; two issues very much at the forefront of today’s political debates. Is it really an attempt to claim a common humanity, or is it an attempt to claim a common political agenda?

          • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 9:27

            It’s the best example of political correctness. 🙂

          • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 9:41

            I think I pontificated before about my disgust of anyone saying that a soldier died for a particular cause, or trying to use the sacrifice of nineteenth century soldiers to endorse a 21st century cause. In general, I strongly oppose anyone’s attempt to use either the Union or the Confederacy in espousing any 21st century agenda. That is a problem I have with what I perceive to be happening with the SCV leadership and far too much of the Southern Heritage Movement.

            To make it a bit more personal, I stopped at the Vicksburg Battlefield on my way to Texas a few years ago. As I had been told, Pvt William H Musick of Company C of the 106th Illinois Infantry is chiseled in granite in the Illinois Memorial. He was my great-great-grandfather and neither he, nor any of the other members of his company, were ever near Vicksburg.

            My Obama sticker is right next to my SCV emblem on the back of my car. Makes some people angry, but I think it makes more people think.

        • Margaret D. Blough Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:12

          What is often missed, quite frequently willfully, in discussing the whole “black Confederates” myth is that those who debunking it are not questioning that black labor was essential to the Confederacy, especially the military effort. It would have been quite impossible for the Confederates to mobilize such a high percentage of white males of military age for combat duty if slaves were not growing the food cotton, sugar and tobacco and building the fortifications. The US government and the loyal citizens clearly recognized this. It formed a significant role in gaining support for the Emancipation Proclamation for many who had no interest in abolition or any use for blacks in general.

          The issue is how Southern whites, particularly the power structure, viewed blacks and their labor. In order to justify holding millions of men, women, and children in bondage, Southern whites had to convince themselves that blacks were inferior. For a Southern white man to see a black man as his equal, particularly in something that white Southern males valued as much as being a soldier, that would jeopardize the white man’s entire view of his world and not only his place but everyone else’s place in it.

          One does not devalue anything about blacks, free and enslaved, in the Confederacy by recognizing the value that was assigned to them by the whites of that time.

          • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:49

            Ms Blough,

            You make some excellent points. Might I suggest as a corollary that viewing any group of people as monolithic, all having the same abilities, characteristics, feelings, or beliefs is also a dangerous mis-perception. I believe that the core reason that slavery is a very bad idea is the fact that the slave is not able to profit by their work, or to accumulate wealth. What made the North American variant worse is that fact that it was linked to just such a monolithic view of a group of people.

            I grew up hearing that Southern white men all thought the same thing and all felt the same way. That view was engrained into the fabric of our media. I frequently recommend the book: “The Other South: Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century” by Carl N Degler. If I recall correctly, he included some examples of slave plantations that were organized around a different model.

  • Heidi Feb 10, 2011 @ 5:35

    In addition, sorry I forgot to add this with my earlier comment, if the blacks were “employees” of the Confederate army, employee carries the connotation of being paid; I highly doubt these blacks were being paid. Also, blacks were not subject to the draft, considering they were not citizens – how can one be an employee of the government without citizenship? Even when the Confederacy decided to “employ” blacks in the army, it was in March of 1865 with Order 14 – does this grant them citizenship? (I personally think it did not.)

    • Andy Hall Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:31

      Free blacks in the South were subject to conscription into non-combatant roles, and they were paid. (Thomas Tobe in South Carolina seems top be an example of this.) Throughout the war, slaves were also subject to being conscripted into work gangs, but this was fought generally tooth-and-nail by the slaveholders, and as the war went on, and the Confederacy’s situation became more desperate, the harder they fought. In those cases, of course, it was the slave owner who was compensated.

      The final act passed by the Confederate Congress in March 1865 to enlist slaves as soldiers very explicitly stated that there would be no change in their long-term status relative to their masters. No emancipation, no citizenship.

      • Margaret D. Blough Feb 10, 2011 @ 9:58

        Arleigh–Excellent point. By law, it was the slaveowner, not the slave’s dependents, who received not only received payment for the slave’s services but also received compensation if the slave were injured or killed while impressed to provide services for the Confederate army.

        • Andy Hall Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:29

          I recall reading an antebellum argument related to the steamboat trade that is was preferable to hire immigrants (i.e., “Germans”) to work as deck hands in preference to slaves, for just that reason. If a slave fell overboard or was scalded to death in a boiler explosion, his owner had to be compensated, while the immigrant’s dependents, if any, were owed nothing.

          • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:53

            Yes, Andy. I have heard the same thing, but I do not recall the source. I have decided that it is a good thing that Margaret gave me the credit for what you said. I won’t tell if you don’t.

  • Heidi Feb 10, 2011 @ 5:28

    I attended a discussion, more like a presentation, on the Confederate monument at the Arlington National Cemetery last night. The gentleman giving the presentation pointed out the “Black Confederate” soldier on the monument. When asked about why he pointed him out, and if Ezekiel (the sculptor of the monument) was training black soldiers in Richmond in 1865…he danced around the answer. He said blacks were employees of the Confederate Army. When anyone would try to dissuade him from the thought that throngs of blacks were fighting for the Confederacy, he would hear none of it. It is very upsetting and disappointing that people can not open up enough to have a “debate” on this topic.

  • Arleigh Birchler Feb 9, 2011 @ 15:53

    Actually Kevin, it was not my distinction. I was simply quoting Carl and paying attention to his words. My perspective is undoubtedly flawed, but it appears to me that you and Carl are saying the same thing, and arguing about which one is right.

    I did not see Carl say anything about these men being duly enlisted under the laws of the Confederate States of America, nor did I see him say they fought. All I saw was the statement, which you apparently agree with, that the slaves of officers who attended Confederate reunions were recognized by the white veterans as fellow soldiers.

    We could argue all day about the motivation of either the white officers or the black body servants, but that is not what is being said.

    Perhaps if I say that Andy appears to be addressing the question more directly it might help to explain what I am trying to say in my own muddled way. I plead senility.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2011 @ 15:56


      I don’t know what your perspective is. I asked a very simple and reasonable question that must be acknowledged when analyzing this issue. You are right that you didn’t see Carl reference whether they were enlisted, but if they served as soldiers, then, by definition they were enlisted. Motivation is not what is at issue. What is at issue is the LEGAL STATUS OF BLACK MEN WHO WERE PRESENT IN THE CONFEDERATE ARMY!

  • Arleigh Birchler Feb 9, 2011 @ 15:27

    This is what disturbs me in this on-going discussion:

    Carl: “the very people they served with, the ones who did the actual fighting, recognized them as soldiers.”

    Kevin: “What primary documents do you have that demonstrates that the black men who attended veterans’ reunions were acknowledged as having fought as soldiers in Confederate ranks?”

    It seems to me, Kevin, that Carl’s statement clearly draws a distinction between those who fought, and those who the ones who “did the actual fighting” recognized as fellow soldiers. Yet you come back with the same objection about them “having fought as soldiers”. It is as if everyone in the discussion totally ignores what the other person said, focusing instead on what their retort will be. I see no hope of progress in such a “discussion”. Simply refusing to discuss Seneca’s statement makes me think that there is no desire for communication.

    I do not see this as a discussion of what the feelings and experience of some Southern African Americans were duting the War Between the States, but simply a proxy fight over what folks see as being “The Bigger Questions”.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2011 @ 15:36


      I am simply asking for evidence demonstrating that the men who attended reunions did so as veterans of the army and not as a former personal slave or impressed slave. Your distinction between “those who fought” and those who were “recognized as soldiers” makes absolutely no sense to me. Either they were enlisted as soldiers in the Confederate army or they were present in some other capacity. The record is very clear as to the status of black men in the army. They were present not as soldiers. You are going to need to clarify your point because I really have no idea as to what you are suggesting. Thanks.

      • Vicky Apr 20, 2018 @ 12:01

        Since both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy have verified members whose African American ancestors helped the Confederate cause, there must be some documentation somewhere. They do not allow membership unless the prospective member can DOCUMENT their ancestor’s service. Also, you might want to watch Henry Louis Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” on PBS. He has documented African American Confederates in Louisiana.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 20, 2018 @ 12:52

          Also, you might want to watch Henry Louis Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” on PBS. He has documented African American Confederates in Louisiana.

          No, he hasn’t.

          • Mike Furlan Apr 20, 2018 @ 15:00

            From you post that Kevin linked to:
            “Gates has never done any serious research on the subject. He appears to believe that the black Confederate shows that African Americans cannot be easily labeled or their behavior predicted. He once told me following a talk at Harvard that the reason I deny the existence of these men is because I resist acknowledging that African Americans are complex or “complicated.”
            As far as I can tell, African Americans fought for every power in the Western Hemisphere since they were brought here from Africa. Until that is, the American Civil War. The remarkable, and most important fact is that both the Union and the Confederacy uniquely refused to recognize African Americans as soldiers at the beginning of the War. As we know the Union eventually allowed large numbers of black men to die for their country, while the Confederacy had a death bed conversion to the color blind enlistment and recognized so few Black troops in such a chaotic fashion that you cannot even name one. (correct me if I am wrong, but I think all the rosters have been lost.) Of course African Americans are complicated, of course some would have fought for a bad cause for deluded reasons. But what is not complicated is good old United States racism.

    • Andy Hall Feb 9, 2011 @ 15:53

      Arleigh, Carl made an explicit claim — “the very people they served with, the ones who did the actual fighting, recognized them as soldiers.” What Kevin asked (and I’ve now seconded) is both fair and simple — show the evidence that these men were considered to be fellow soldiers, of equal status, with the white veterans.

      Carl is trying to do what Kevin alluded to a couple of posts backm fudge around the definitions of “soldier” and “black Confederate” to fit a larger (and false) narrative about the makeup of the Confederate army — and, by extension, deflect the notion that race and slavery were central, fundamental constructs in both the war and the national identity of the Confederacy. Everyone here acknowledges that African Americans (mostly slave, but some free) were an integral part of the larger Confederate war effort, working as personal servants, hospital attendants, cooks, laborers, and so on. (And yes, there are anecdotal examples of such men, in a tight spot, picking up a weapon themselves.) That’s not challenged by any serious historian, neither that some of these men later attended Confederate reunions as former slaves. But that’s not what Carl is claiming, and it’s reasonable to ask him to back it up.

      • Arleigh Birchler Feb 9, 2011 @ 16:05

        Yes Andy, the terms “Black Confederate” and “Soldier” cause a lot of consternation and confusion. How would you react if you read the statement:

        “Part of what allowed the Confederate Army to stay in the field and in the fight as long as it did was the labor of Southern African Americans”?

        My guess is that everyone on every side of the issue would insert additional words into the statement and quibble about their precise definition. It would be a rare person indeed who overlooked the grammar and semantics and thought about and discussed the issue.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2011 @ 16:08

          No, the reference to black Confederates is confusing. Historians understand who was a soldier. That concept is crystal clear. The question is whether slaves and free blacks were soldiers. Other than a couple of exceptions to the rule these men were not soldiers. How do we know this? The Confederate government and the army reinforced it in myriad ways.

          This is not a complex subject.

          • Claude Mar 4, 2018 @ 21:57

            A man, is this Frederick Douglas quote correct ? I mean I thought I may have read that it may have been altered. I’m not a historian though very interested, especially this topic. If it’s not valid and can’t be used in this discussion, other than for being altered, why? Its the first half of the quote.
            “It is now pretty well established, that there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may to destroy the Federal Government and build up that of the traitor”

        • Andy Hall Feb 9, 2011 @ 16:20

          I agree with that quote as it is, being familiar with the topic and understanding the limitations of the wording. But if I were writing for, say, a 4th grade Virginia textbook, I’d much more careful about the wording, because it can easily be misunderstood. Precise definitions are important, and it’s not quibbling or playing semantic games to insist that the word “soldier” does not encompass civilians performing in a logistical support role.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 9, 2011 @ 15:55

      Unfortunately, although soldiers might want to recognize someone as a comrade, that recognition (even according someone the status of a “soldier”) does not make one a soldier.
      I can speak for life experience on this. My wife and I engaged a realtor once. I was not present when the two of them got to talking. My wife’s an Air Force veteran; the realtor was an Army veteran. My wife mentioned my ROTC experience, and the realtor then announced that we were brothers in service. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable that made me, and I rejected the description, saying that while my ROTC experience was very educational (and it was), I would not equate it with military service or with being a soldier. He, however, did, and continued to do so. We can speculate on why he did this, but you have to admit that even the motivation of impressing a client fades when the client resists the recognition.
      The status of a soldier was a specific one in the 19th century, and enslaved blacks were not accorded that status in the Confederate army until the end of the war (I’d love to hear about those two companies that drilled in Richmond holding reunions).
      Seneca is not a binding authority on USA or CSA classifications. Why some people persist in embracing ahistorical justifications intrigues me.

      • Arleigh Birchler Feb 9, 2011 @ 16:16

        I suspect you would find that many of the men in those two companies that drilled in Richmond had worked in the Confederate Hospital in Richmond with Surgeon Joseph Aloysius Mudd. Mudd wrote an article in a Confederate Magazine about going to their meeting and listening to their speeches. Just incidentally, Mudd had served under Joe Porter in Northeast Missouri before going to Richmond to complete his medical training. How accurate his memory or how true his telling of the tale was is, of course, open to debate. I tracked down several of his articles many years ago, and doubt I could find them again rapidly. At that time I had available the resources of the History Museum and Library in Madison, Wisconsin. I think you asked once before, but yes, I did spend a lot of time at both Confederate Rest and Union Rest while living in Madison.

    • Billy Bearden Feb 9, 2011 @ 19:39


      Have you ever wondered how the Confederate and Union forces managed to fight for 4 long years of horrible war without ever answering the call of nature? I have myself pondered this puzzling question myself. I have sought many sources, and not a single mention of anyone using the bathroom ever. This includes Bob Krick, Gary Gallagher, James McPherson, Ken Noe, Peter Carmichael, J. Tracy Power, etc. Why is this?

      • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 1:42

        LOL…Congratulations Billy, with this logic you can now go ahead and prove anything you want. Thank you for providing the best example of the faulty logic behind this debate. With all due respect, but do you realize how embarrassing this is?

        • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:30

          I had decided not to comment on this topic, but I can not restrain myself. Everyone knows that the Confederate Army had separate “Colored” and “White” trenches. All one needs to do is look at the photos of the latrine area. They all have those signs to make sure the black soldiers and the white soldiers did not pee in the same plane.

          • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:36

            What photographs and black soldiers are you referring to? I’m sorry, but this sounds about as ridiculous as Bearden’s last comment. Really, is this the state of the debate?

            • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 7:13

              Perhaps we need a “laugh tape” to play to cue the listener that we are making a joke. Maybe some of those little smiley face “emoticons”. Anything to get people to smile and laugh from time to time. The constant bitter and rancorous debate gets tiring after awhile.

              Now I am being serious.

              I really enjoyed the segment Henry Louis Gates Jr. did on the SCV ceremony he attended honoring Wary Clyburn. Gates has done a number of excellent videos on a wide range of topics. In looking for something to make sure I spelled his name correctly I ran across a New York Times article he wrote on “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game”. Having spent a month living in a rural Bambara village in West Africa, his words resonated with me.

              • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 7:15

                Yes, it would help if you told us when you are making a joke.

                I also enjoyed the Gates series on “Looking For Lincoln” and I particularly enjoyed watching the SCV honor a slave as a soldier. (fill in sarcasm)

                • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 7:45

                  ROFL, LMAO.

                  Abe Lincoln, just like Jeff Davis, was not a simple man. A story has come down in my family about one of the ancestors and his daughter passing Lincoln on the street in Central Illinois (early in Mr Lincoln’s career). The daughter later recounted that after he passed her Dad turned to her and said: “He’s a good man.” That seems enough for me.

      • Ken Noe Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:55

        Obviously you missed my edited version of Marcus Woodcock’s memoir, which includes the recounting of his chronic diarrhea. No laughing matter, this disease was the leading non-combat killer of soldiers in the second half of the war. A Google search of “‘chronic diarrhea’ ‘civil war’ memoir” just turned up 28,300 hits.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 6:58

          Thanks Ken. I believe William Davis’s recent study of Civil War food also includes a section on diarrhea and other associated problems.

        • Arleigh Birchler Feb 10, 2011 @ 7:53

          Yes, Chronic Diarrhea was one of the complaints listed in my great-great-grandfather’s application for a veteran’s pension. He was in Company C, 106th Illinois Infantry (Logan County).

          • Bob Pollock Feb 10, 2011 @ 9:02

            I am working on a post about my great-grandfather’s brothers who served in Indiana units. One died at Andersonville of – guess what – diarreah. It’s specified on his discharge papers. I don’t think you can read an account of Andersonville without reading about the sewage problem.

            • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2011 @ 9:06

              I think Bearden’s comment is a reflection of how little he has read in primary sources related to the soldiers experience.

      • Andre May 27, 2011 @ 11:35

        Great Billy, I myself have been researching this topic and debate for four years now and this is probably the best example yet of the fault in this argument of “Contents of Soldiers Memoirs.”

  • Carl W. Roden Feb 9, 2011 @ 14:39


    Well before the Sons of Confederate Veterans got involved in honoring the fallen of Dixie, the United Confederate Veterans (the aged veterans of that war themselves) saw fit to include these men among their own, they attended the reunions of their own free will, and were given pensions by the Southern States…the very people they served with,the ones who did the actual fighting, recognized them as soldiers.

    That alone should end this entire argument.

    So now let me ask you a question specifically: “If any of these me had been given the chance by the Confederate Congress to formally be a Confederate soldier of his own free will before 1865, do you believe they would have refused?”

    From what I have read of Black Confederates, I seriously doubt many would have.

    “He who does garrison duty is as much a soldier as he that is in the fighting line” ~Seneca, Roman Philosopher (4 BC – 65 AD

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2011 @ 14:57


      Thank you for the comment. First, I highly recommend that you take a look at the link in the top navigation bar, titled, “Black Confederate Resources.” I’ve written quite a bit about this subject and this should help you with some of your questions. Let me address them in turn:

      1. What primary documents do you have that demonstrates that the black men who attended veterans reunions were acknowledged as having fought as soldiers in Confederate ranks? What records from the black men themselves can you point to to help make this case? Please don’t point to images. We already know that some slaves were outfitted with uniforms for various reasons, which did not necessarily effect their status. The pensions that African Americans received from former Confederate states were offered to slaves and not soldiers. The documents are very clear in terms of the questions they asked of the applicant. I’ve discussed this at length as have other historians.

      2. Seneca’s definition is irrelevant to the relevant questions surrounding the Confederate government’s explicit policy on the recruitment of black soldiers as well as how most white southernes, both in the ranks and on the home front viewed this issue. They did not take steps to recruit these men until the middle of March 1865.

      3. The Confederate government did not offer black men the option to enlist before March 1865 so your question is irrelevant. My response to your question is also irrelevant. The only way to answer your question is to find letters and diaries from blacks who desired to enlist. Do you have such documents?

      I highly recommend that you read Bruce Levine’s excellent study, “Confederate Emancipation” which is one of the best scholarly studies of this subject. Thanks for the questions.

      Now, here is a question for you to consider. Have you ever seen a letter or diary from a Confederate soldier (written during the war) who acknowledged the existence of black Confederate soldiers? I have never seen such a document and I don’t know a single Civil War historian who has. This includes Bob Krick, Gary Gallagher, James McPherson, Ken Noe, Peter Carmichael, J. Tracy Power, etc. Why is this?

    • Andy Hall Feb 9, 2011 @ 15:36

      . . . the very people they served with,the ones who did the actual fighting, recognized them as soldiers.

      I’ll second Kevin’s request for documentation of that explicit recognition by white veterans at the reunions. As I’ve outlined in two cases, when you dig into contemporary accounts of the reunions, the black men (if discussed at all) are explicitly identified as slaves and servants, not combatants.

      Since you cite the UCV’s supposed recognition of black men as soldiers, I would also refer readers to John B. Gordon’s memoir, written not long before his death, at a time when he himself was Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans:

      Indeed, many of them who were with the army as body-servants repeatedly risked their lives in following their young masters and bringing them off the battlefield when wounded or dead. These faithful servants at that time boasted of being Confederates, and many of them meet now with the veterans in their reunions, and, pointing to their Confederate badges, relate with great satisfaction and pride their experiences and services during the war. One of them, who attends nearly all the reunions, can, after a lapse of nearly forty years, repeat from memory the roll call of the company to which his master belonged.

      Note that Gordon considers these men as a separate group from “the veterans.” He doesn’t describe them as soldiers, or having any combat role or as being under military officers’ orders; they were “faithful servants,” looking after their masters. And his tone describing them at reunions is condescending, almost as if he’s talking about children, infatuated with badges and showing off tricks — not at all the way one would speak of co-equal comrades-in-arms.

      (The Gordon quote is taken from a longer passage, discussed here, in which Gordon describes the debate in the closing weeks of the war about enlisting slaves into the ranks of the army; although he doesn’t come down squarely on either side of the question himself, it’s clear that, at the time, it would have been an unprecedented step.)

  • Arleigh Birchler Feb 8, 2011 @ 13:18


    I have seen people take things like your current profile picture and use them as absolute proof that the person in question is a raging white supremacist and a secret member of the Aryan Nations.

    I was a bit taken back by your statement that most of the descriptions are vague, but on re-scanning the entire post I realized that the operative word was “most”. As I have seen this argument unfold, it tends to be “Some Southern African American males may have supported the South” versus “You cannot prove that any were duly enlisted under Confederate Rules and Regulations, and that they fought in a battle next to White Confederate States Army soldiers.”

    I first came across the notion of “Black Confederates” in an obscure book called “The Civil War Book of Lists.” I never even suspected that this might be scrupulously researched academic literature. I simply took it as a compilation of “facts” compiled by some Civil War buffs who wanted to publish a book. The other thing that was mentioned was some women who had disguised themselves and fought in both the Confederate and the Federal Armies.

    I spent some time trying to learn more about both topics. I seldom find much new on either. Just a lot of accusations and misquotes on all sides.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2011 @ 13:23

      I was being kind when I said, “most”. The claims are made completely independently from any understanding of the relevant scholarly literature and especially the rich archival collections that are readily available to anyone willing to do the necessary work.

      In contrast to the black Confederate issue there is a good deal of scholarly work on women who disguised themselves in uniform during the Civil War. I recommend beginning with Elizabeth Leonard’s _All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies_ (Norton) and DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook _They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War_ (Louisiana State University Press).

      • Arleigh Birchler Feb 8, 2011 @ 13:39

        I read them both long ago. After that I corresponded with Mr Musick (forget his first name) who is a colleague of Ms Blanton. I was very active writing articles for the Musick Family Association of America at that time, and Mr Musick was quick to point out that he is not a descendant of George and Ann Musick of Spotsylvania, Virginia. I also exchanged a few messages with Ms Blanton.

        If you look in her acknowledgments you will see the name of Wendy King. I got to know Ms King rather well and participated in some War Between the States re-enactments with her. Naturally we were with the good guys, the Army of Northern Virginia …

  • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 8, 2011 @ 10:49

    You say “inability,” I say “refusal.” 🙂

    The reason the people can’t really defend what they put up is indeed an inability to engage in those sorts of discussions, because they simply can’t defend indefensible behavior. But the reason they put these things up in the first place, and then recite them as gospel truth when the evidence offers no support for their allegations suggests that they aren’t interested in analysis.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2011 @ 11:05

      It’s not that they aren’t “interested in analysis” but that they don’t understand what it involves.

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